Sunday, August 24, 2008


I had not intended to post this project for a while, but since the item has been published and discussed in a few places online it seemed best to place a definitive version here on my own blog.

...the site (this is where to build, this is what can be put here)...the client (this is what they want, in exactly this shade of this tint of this color)...the crass economics (this is what can be put here...this is where the not-a-cent-more money can be spent)...even the the vagaries of formal operations (this is the shape...this is what the style/procedure/computer-program says happens here, as if it matters)...

Must it always go that way, petty commonplaces driving each project from assigned purpose to imperfect-if-not-botched realization? As if any of those considerations matter ultimately, at the final trumpet-blast, in the end!

That phrase "in the end itself" can conjure--in fact has conjured up a potential mythology, something with which I might defy the quotidian: this is the house where I wait for the world to come to an end.

Having latched on to this Mythology as the basis for a work of architecture, in defiance of the usual conventions and rituals I must next determine a site. Where does one go to await such an occasion? Not for me the conventional-conventions for "going out with a bang", now that I have a Mythology: no typically-grand (or even typically-snug) house in a great city; no typically-soaring cathedral for my typical-prayers; no typically-beautiful spot in a beautiful country; not even a typically-favorite little resort with a typically-special friend for company. I strive to think of some place hard to reach--for I'm not coming back--with little to call me there other than it will be one of the last places to succumb to whatever thing or things (as if it matters) will consume the world. I think of desperate literary journeys and undertakings. I remember Poe's Pym and his unfinished narrative of an unfinished voyage to the antipodes: South. All the way. Until things start to stop.

The correct site leaps off a map of the Antarctic at me: Deception Island. I like the name. The whole of existence is generally recognized as a deception; so let me witness it being swept away from the vantage of an island named in honor of the great untruth. And the map I have is from 1829, so my site is a deception now too (a volcanic island in a disputed sea is unlikely to remain geographically quiescent for decades, let alone a century and a half). My Deception Island is metaphysical: no oil spills, no noisy tourists looking for penguins and icebergs, no "research" stations waiting for the next eruption or a pointless change of sovereignty. My Deception Island waits alone, stark and unvisited in a southern sea, for the end of all deceptions.

So: a dark coast, green-less and forbidding, a bleak shore of rock and sand, backed by "ice cliffs" (from the 1829 map), north of a forbidding headland like a giant boulder. This is where (metaphysically, mythologically) I will make the last voyeuristic stand against oblivion in the appropriate architectural vessel and prepare to watch something that might be a storm (but could be any fashionable version of apocalypse, personal or universal) sweep in from the sea (my proxy for the courts of chaos).

Ship it down, pound it down, lift it up, sheath it up, insulate it in case I have to wait, put on a black cloak--and stand there waiting for the end to come up like the most picturesque of gales:

I imagine the place on pilings to last a bit longer as whatever floods in (ignoring, because this is Mythology, the animosity of wind-driven mini-bergs towards relatively-weaker fiberglass-composite poles...there is probably a way around the issue, and anyway perhaps the bergs will have all melted). The curve of the water-front elevation is a bulwark: metaphysically, spiritually hydrodynamic/aerodynamic. Back of the house is a same-elevated deck for the be-tarp-ed supplies (or nothing, depending on how long I must linger).

Since the end will come (in my Mythology) from out the sea or over it, I face the openings that face the sea with a shielding grate in front of heavy (insulated and impact-resistant, to be certain) glass set in stout steel doors. Of course, this is primarily a place to watch something or watch for something, so those shielded window-doors must open onto shielded lookout-balconies which take their brunt-shapes from the curving steel arch of the roof (minimum radius of curvature 10', according to the manufacturer). Re-purposed acrylic arena-spectator shielding will permit view of that ominous horizon. When the waves get too high, I will back into the hull-house proper, shut the grates (I'll have to heroically struggle against the wind, no doubt, to get it done), push the doors closed until the gaskets engage, and watch the last act through the glass. I probably wasn't as careful as I should have been with the flashing details, given the amount of whatever (waves, rain, tears?) dashing against the front, and the salt will eventually eat into the galvalume. But then this doesn't have to last forever:

my Stormhouse.

As with the Pavilion for Oblivion project in 2007, this project was chosen for the 2008 "Fantasy Architecture" theme issue of AIArchitect.

LINK: Picasa web album for this project
LINK: Picasa web album of images from this project's development.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Algorithms for Nostalgia

Since the subject of my first post appeared previously in several sites on the Internet, I feel that my second should be something heretofore unpublished.

Math-driven shape creation still seems all the rage, judging by a quick image search with Google under the term "generative architecture." It was just beginning to be "the thing" when I finally finished my masters; now it seems to dominate the imagery coming out of the cutting-edge architecture firms and bleeding-edge architecture schools.

Although a friend recently suggested to me that this scheme for largely formal development is essentially a perversion of the much vaunted concept of parametric modeling, I really don't have difficulty with the idea of using unusual techniques to find unique shapes. I'm all about imagery and form after all. To what are we supposed to limit parametrics? Window schedules? "BIM"? (Does anyone really go into architecture to do estimates and schedules?)

This is how it works: the script-kiddie plugs in the formula, hits "go", and--Bingo!--cool shapes. There might be other motives inferred by the designer/scripter, but the eye-candy (swoop-y, chunky, Voronoi-bubbly, stringy, or strongly-reminiscent-of-intestines...the cool-not-much-like-your-parents'-buildings-shape-factor) is clearly in the driver's seat.

Algorithmic architectural designs also make a strange appeal, I sense, to classical metaphysics. I have the feeling that I am expected to attach a kind of sacredness to the architectural shapes generated by those tedious little computer programs, much as I am expected to discern a sacerdotal ambiance in the products of the ancient forms of procedural design, accomplished (undoubtedly) with rules of proportion, straight-edges, and lots of unusual variations on the mechanical compass as opposed to a scripting language. This must be an oddly pervasive remnant of that hoary religion of Pythagoras': numbers and mathematical relationships are perfect, independent of and unaffected by our silly meatspace foibles, and thus deserving of our veneration. A building whose shape is defined by mathematical relationships is by extension also deserving of our veneration...more than one that is not so defined, anyway.

Maybe. I suspect that the "harmony" some people claim to find in certain relentlessly-mathematics-ized buildings is there because they expected it (having been told beforehand it was there), and not because there is some perceptible channel, thanks to the form-generating algorithm, to some idealized mundus alter.

Nevertheless I recently spent at little time playing with form-through-scripts. Channeling some angry forgotten Dadaist, I decided to forgo the swoopy organics and set the thing to position sheets of plywood and various typical sizes of wood studs. I hit the button and:

Instant super-sized high-rise favela! Yeah! I'll take that instead of some giant pile of animal innards any day! (We all know how much architects like shanty towns with their creative use of materials, as long as we don't have to live there.
LINK to beautiful irony.)

Well, of course it isn't really a functional if oddly-oversize shanty town. The generator isn't that intelligent; it doesn't know that you need a door here, a leaking roof there, an open sewer drain here. I could tweak the script forever until it came closer to producing the "real thing" (images/models of the real thing, in other words) but it's easier to just delete the bits that look really non-believable (studs that punch through sheets, etc.) and go with an evocative image.

And this concept (of an evocative collection of ordinary or even base things) suggested to me that I edit the script results to propose (frame) an alternate metaphysics, one beyond the banal "beyond" of typical (and typically unquestioned) idealized worlds, including the one referenced through the crypto-Pythagorean veneration of mathematical relationships.

Here's an idealized mundus alter of plywood, studs, and badly-welded, gravity-defying steel tubes.

Think of this as a petty homage to de Chirico, specifically
The Nostalgia of the Infinite of 1912.

I have noticed, incidentally,
signs that a certain reaction against script-driven models is developing...perhaps the beginning of a typical tidal surge of architectural floccinaucinihilipilification (yes, that is a word).

LINK to Picasa Web Album for this post.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Pavilion for Oblivion

First post! For no particular reason other than the fact that I'm still fond of it, I'll begin with a project from nearly a year ago.

An upright stone in a puddle of rainwater...or two, or five stones...a few fragments of a curving wall, a capstone precariously balanced across the uprights, defying time and gravity, a banked platform, perhaps even a path (to where?) marked out by yet another set of stones.

Is this a work of architecture? Was it a work of architecture, two, three, or nearly five thousand years ago? It's a pile of rocks, but it had a meaning to the nameless figures who dragged the rude megaliths up from the valley, excavated the ditch with spades of deer antlers, who marked the path, who left their stone axes and the bones of their leaders or their scapegoats tucked in odd corners. We can survey the remaining stones; we can look for alignments with the stars or mountain peaks that might or might not have been sacred; we can carbon test the splinters of wood left in a post hole long filled. We can never really know what was intended here, what they meant in doing this. Yet the significance is there, in the leaning stones, the path, the post holes...we can feel it. It's still there, but we can no more define it than we can speak the language of the builders or understand their vanished world.

I do not like the term “spirit of place,” which seems overused now...but if there is such a thing, a ghost of intent with an objective presence independent of its forgotten, long-demised creators and their whole swept-away milieu, it lingers in such fragments and such places.

It is difficult at this point to imagine that I will ever in my foreshortened career undertake a project with more than a transitory financial significance to its owner, let along an ineffable meaning that will outlast me and my whole civilization. But I can imagine how I might approach such a I could evoke this ghost of intention, with the means and materials I believe I understand as a man of my own time.

So let me start with the same elemental fragments and gestures: a path, marked irregularly, almost unmarked, by found megaliths, across the flat top of the hill...for the initiate, or for those to be initiated?...a gateway and threshold, also elemental...the gate is into the Other Space, a foyer to a sacral world, perhaps (but it doesn't really matter which sacral world, does it?). The space of transition beyond the gate is a circle...and because I am modern, I have the stones kept from falling into the space with heavy oxidizing steel plates and wide-flange steel columns embedded into the concrete platform. There is yet another “elemental” guardian, a single low, tooth-like stone on axis with the first threshold, in a small reflecting pool like that which would form around it on a sodden moor (even though here it is a pool in a concrete platform)...and beyond, on a different platform, on a different axis (or none at all, to mark the change in the Path), another pool, under the oculus of a precarious-seeming (but actually rather overbuilt) structure of plywood sheathing, monoplanar trusses, and steel sections...a pool reflecting just the misty sky...Beyond the pool are stairs down to the edge of the world, or perhaps just a view into it.

Eventually of course the trusses will weaken, the sheathing blow down the hill in a storm, the steel melt away in red and orange stains, the concrete complete its karmic return as sand and gravel. What will be left? A few upright stones, a few fragments of a curving wall, a path...and the ghost of intent.
To my great surprise, this project--images and words--appeared in the "Fantasy Architecture" theme issue of AIArchitect, July 27, 2007.

LINK: Picasa Web Album page for this project